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A night atop Pillar (G/LD-006), A night atop Esk Hause

Note: The forum seems to crop my images, which are inserted as links to google photos. If anyone can tell me how to insert images without them being cropped, please let me know!

Thursday 3rd March 2022

I have been meaning to camp atop Pillar for a while. My usual route up is via Scoat Tarn, and every time I have set out to camp atop Pillar in the evening I have found camping at the Scoat Tarn far too tempting - especially when the weather is foul. As part as a last clutch at Winter bonus points this year, I headed off into the hills for two night-er.

I decided this time to approach from Wasdale Head via Black Sail pass. Setting off after work on Thursday 3rd March I cycled up into Wasdale, and locked my bike to a notice board just short of the green at Wasdale Head. After faffing about moving equipment from panniers to backpack, it was after 1900hrs when I set off on foot - and so properly dark.

Passing alongside the inn I gained the bridleway - comprised of ankle-breaking slippery cobles. The forecast was for possible rain/snow and winds of about 30mph on the summit. The forecast for the next two days was rather mixed, with he possibility of snow and ice - so I was lugging full winter equipment .

The path follows the east side of Mosedale beck, and is easy walking once the cobblestones run out. Ritsons Force was visible in the torchlight and a vague shadow of Kick Fell above. Ahead were many pairs of sheep’s eyes, probably not too pleased at being disturbed after just settling down for the night.

The path starts to kick up and head north east before crossing Gatherstones Beck - this would be a nasty crossing in spate conditions but thankfully the water was not too high tonight. Checking my watch, the time was already marching past 2000hrs; I had set a rough watershed of 2030hrs, after which I would camp at the top of the pass rather than making for Pillar.

I stopped stop to fill up with water at about the 500m contour - apart from a couple of small muddy pools there are no water sources on the ridge across to Pillar. The extra 2 kg of weight was a real burden but spirits were buoyed as a crested the top of the pass, it was almost exactly 2030.

The wind was modest, and a packet of Jelly Babies on the way up meant I still ahd plenty of energy, so I pressed on, keeping as south as possible on the ridge to take advantage of the several avoiding paths that miss-out some of the rocky bits. Just after looking stead, one of those rocky-bits is unavoidable, and while an easy climb in daylight is a bit more tricky in darkness with a heavy pack. The lights of Wasdale Head were twinkling below as I picked myself through the scree and rocks.

The path eases off after the crag , and I started to occasional patches of snow in the torchlight. The grassy ridge here could make a good camping spot, but I pressed on it was now passing 2100hrs

The last 50m of ascent seemed to drag on, but eventually a summit shelter and trig point came into view - I could even see the lights of West Cumbria below. Enthused by my good fortune with the weather I decided to get on the radio right away - I was already 10 minutes past my alert time of 2130hrs. I sat on a pile of snow in the shelter and called CQ.

First to respond was M0RKD/M, passing close to Warrington on the M6 on a long drive from Edinburgh. Next was M7ASK and M7LEM. the fourth contact was 2E0EVD. By now it was starting to snow and the mist had closed in - my initial god fortune with the weather had been simply a brief clearing.

I starting getting the tent up, by which time it was snowing quite heavily. The temperature was just above zero and this was damp, wet snow. The wind had picked up too, blowing 20 to 30mph. As soon as the tent was up I piled my gear inside, and dove inside myself. The tent was pitched partly inside the shelter, o give some defence from the wind which was from the west.

I quickly got out of my wet clothing and into my sleeping bag - whence I noted a bright light through the wall of my tent - I had left one of my torches outside. This prompted a barefoot walk through the snow to collect the torch - my feet were aching with cold after just a few seconds.

I attempted a few more calls on the radio from inside the tent, but heard noting - so got off to sleep. It was a pretty brutal night - the wind was blowing snow against the tent all night, with spindrift comping under hastily pitched outer.

Friday 4 March 2022

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Morning atop Pillar

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Tent pitched in shelter

I had planned an early start, but was still in my sleeping bag at 0800hrs when I called CQ (at a time I had previously alerted). This morning I had more success, 2E0VRX, followed by 2E0LDF, M7MGO and GW4ZPL a total of twelve contacts were made from inside the tent. I had not bothered to erect the flowerpot antenna as it was too foul outside to contemplate playing with antennas.

Once the pile-up died down I got packed away and got changed back into my day clothes. It looked nasty outside - snow flying about, mist, poor visibility - not inviting at all. I decided to temper my original aims (High Raise) and instead camp atop Esk Hause that night.

The tent was taken down quickly and I headed off into the murk. My compass disintegrated at this point (a top of the range Silva model) so I was navigating with a backup compass (I must say, I didn’t realise how many separate components were in a Silva compass until mine decide to spring appart).

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View back to Wasdale Head - on descent to Black Sail Pass

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Looking back at the craggy bit on the way up Pillar - not nice in the dark!

Once I got down to 800m the snow started to disappear, and a few breaks in the mist also revealed the ridge ahead. I soon retraced the previous night’s steps to Black Sail Pass, staying on an easterly route I headed round to Baysoar Slack, from where I gained the summit plateau - it was now after 1100hrs, and well behind my original schedule.

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Ennerdale and (behind) SOTA summit High Stile, viewed from Baysoar Slack

The summit of Kirk Fell was deserted, but the sun could be seen behind the veil of mist. I setup the flowerpot antenna on a 7m, pole, and sat in my bothy bag to call CQ. 2E0LDF responded first, followed by M0JKS/P on G/LD-020 (Harter Fell), GW4ZPL and G1OHH (giving a weaker signal than usual due to storm damaged antenna). I made about a dozen contacts again, finishing with G4TGJ/P on G/NP-004.

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Activating Kirk Fell

By the end of the activation it was well past midday, and the sun had started to shine - but it was still very cold. Heading eastwards I could see the next objective - Great Gable. Gable looks forbidding from this vantage point - the idea of walking up it seems an impossibility with near vertical rocky sides.

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Great Gable ahead

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Wasdale viewed from ascent of Great Gable

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Ennerdale Viewed from ascent of Great Gable

The muddy ponds at Beck Head were soon reached where I had a spot of lunch (flapjack and chocolate - yum) before heading up. The route is much easier than it looks, being mostly a scree zig-zag, although I often find myself veering off the path into the boulder field for some reason.

The top of Great Gable was cold, with patched of snow. By now the mist had fully lifted, and the sun was visible at time - I had a great view into Wasdale, north to Keswick and eastwards to the Helvellyn Range. Across to the east I could also see Esk Hause - my destination for the day.

I called CQ on my handheld, and first to respond was GW4ZPL, followed by M0NOM, M0JKS/P (still on Harter Fell) and G6WBS/P (on G/LD-013). A busy pileup followed, with contacts into Leeds, Manchester and most of Cumbria.

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Cold summit of great gable (plus random walkers on the summit cairn

I headed off the summit towards Aaron Slack - this provides a nice sheltered spot, with a good source of water, ideal for a break. A bad step guards the final exit from the summit plateau, and I lowered my pack on paracord to make it easier - its nasty spot if carrying a heavy pack.

Aaron slack provided a great rest spot, looking out above Styhead Tarn towards Glaramara. I watched a couple of walkers pitching a tent at Styhead - I have never once passed this location without seeing a tent, and I was glad to see the rule proved again. I would never camp here myself – all those people camping here must also be going to the toilet here, that’s why the grass looks so lush around the tarn.

I climbed past sprinkling Tarn - I was tempted to stop here, but was also looking forward to camping atop the Hause so pressed onwards. On reaching Esk Hause I soon found a good spot for the tent - this a lovely place to camp, although prone to strong winds at times.

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Tent pitched on Esk Hause - wainwright summit Esk Pike behind

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Looking out over Eskdale

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Scafell Pike in cloud at dusk

I erected the flowerpot antenna/pole next to the tent, and after collecting some water settled down to east re-hydrated potato hotpot. I had a good chat with 2E0LDF and 2E0XUP on the radio, and then settled down for the night.

Saturday 5 March 2022

I got a good night’s sleep - the wind stayed fairly slack at about 20mph., although an inch of snow fell in the night. The the was frozen in the morning - condensation on the outer had frozen to the inner where the wind was buffeting the two together. The guylines were frozen stiff, and the antenna pole had weird ice formations all along. I had to break the top of the pole into pieces as it was so frozen that it was impossible to retract.
Google Photos

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Click for the full image - can’t work out how to get the forum to display portrait images

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Icy cold conditions on Esk Hause (again, the forum sems to have mangled my image - click for uncropped version)

I headed off towards Scafeell, Ice-Axe in hand hoping for some good ice conditions on the way up to the summit. Most of the way the path was covered with an inch of mixed now and ice and fairly easy going. I paused at Broad Crag col for some chocolate before heading up the steep northeastern side of Scafell Pike. Part way up I found thick ice covering the path, and so donned crampons, I could hear G7KSE chatting on the radio (from Kirk Fell) while I sat there… Although I had only carried them up until now, I was glad I brought them - the last 40m of ascent would have been difficult in just microspikes.

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Icy climb from Broad Crag Col

The huge summit cairn was soon in view, and a magnificent vie all around. The sky was blue and the sun shining - but it was still so very cold. I stuffed the now 6m pole into my pack rather than guy it out, and called CQ at 0945hrs. A massive pile-up followed, with around 50 contacts and many summit-to-summits. At the end of the pileup[ I caught G7KSE, now on Great Gable - he was later that day to reach Scafell Pike too, just as I arrived home.

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Activating Scafell Pike

With the summit starting to get busy, I left at about 1100hrs, heading down and across Lingmell col
to take a favourite descent route via Lingmell Nose - guaranteed to be quiet, and giving great views across to the PIllar-KirkFell-Gable skyline.

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View of Pillar from Ling Mell

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Wasdale Head Car Park

I was back on by bicycle just after midday, and continued t make contacts on the cycle home - chasing G6WBS/P on Black Combe.

It was a great trip out with some contrasting conditions - brutal weather on Pillar, a pleasant evening on Esk Hause and glorious sunshine on the Saturday.

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I knew that was your bike chained to the post Matthew :joy:

Beck head was fine today as was the corridor, only the last bit up to the summit of scafell was sketchy. Lots of ice… My boots are rubbish in those conditions and I landed on my pride and bent a walking pole. Mrs g7kse was not impressed.

Great write up

Wonderful report Matt and a real pleasure to work you from my holiday location in Keswick

Cheers

Craig 2E0VRX 73

What a great expedition! Many thanks for the report.

I was geographically thrown by your reference to Mosedale as the one I know is below Carrock Fell. But a bit of Googling suggests the “mose” part means a marsh or bog/moss in Old Norse. The “dale” means a valley of course.

Great report and photos. Well done Matt :grinning:

Geoff vk3sq

The other one I know is in the Eastern lakes, and the location of the best bothy in northern England: Mosedale Cottage. Grid ref NY494509.

You interpretation of the name ‘Mosedale’ explains why it is always boggy in these places.

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Great to catch you when I was camped on Esk Hause.

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What a great outing. Thanks for the S2S.

I always enjoy reading your reports Matthew. You are an inspiration!

However… I dread to think what your pack must weigh? Especially on some of those steeper sections. Well done.

PS nice photos too.

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Great report thanks Matthew. Once I’ve done editing my photos in Google Photos I download them, unzip, then I drag the individual images into the reflector post from a file browser. Works for me!

Mark.

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Many thanks for the fantastic report Matthew. The word “Respect” springs to mind. :grinning:

When I activated Pillar with Paul G4MD, we ascended the actual pillar route, but wussed out and overnighted at Black Sail Hut. Must say though, the memory of that experience still ranks as one of the best I’ve had in relation to SOTA overnighters.

73, Gerald

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Another great report with some smashing photos to go with it.

I wonder how many other hams have called CQ from the top of a hill, inside their tent AND inside their sleeping back ?? Not too many perhaps.

Dave

That sounds like it could be an elite branch of SOTA - the Bivvy Club, perhaps?

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I heartily recommend a summit top camp for SOTA, but obviously ensure your equipment is up to the weather forecast.

Even with just 2m VHF, i find all sorts of interesting contacts through the night. On HF in summer it is even more interesting.

Operating from a sleeping bag, while the weather outside is bad is great too.

I have an aim to camp atop all 4 point and above summits in the lake district, this is how I am doing (I suspect I will never manage them all, especially since some are rather rocky and small (eg Pike o Blisco) but it is a good thing to aim at)

A night atop Seatallan (G/LD-025)
A night atop Grasmoor (G/LD-009), and Grisedale Pike (G/LD-015)
A night atop Robinson (G/LD-021) - January 2022
A night atop Black Combe (G/LD-030)
A night atop Robinson (G/LD-021)

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I would suspect that over the years slightly more than “not too many” have done something that satisfies the @M6GYU criteria.

For SOTA I can claim; G/LD-025, G/LD-029 (yesterday AM) and GM/WS-253.

With a tent you need a suitable patch of grass to pitch (flat is optional!). Plus, if your tent isn’t self supporting, you need ground that can take pegs or rocks to anchor to (most Lakeland summits have a thin layer of moss before hitting rock). All this needs to be within the AZ. Then you need to be reasonably confident in the weather forecast regarding wind.

@M0MZB I like your aim. I have bivvied on the summit of Great Gable (not for SOTA) and I think I would add that to your list of tricky to execute unless you take a bivvy bag only. In the past I have noticed a small patch of grass to the east of the summit of Scafell Pike that might be within the AZ. (if you do go for bivvy bag only, for Pike o’ Blisco I recall a flat grassy spot within the AZ to the west of the summit).

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I was about to say ‘me me me!’.

But then I looked at the snow & thought … but in midwinter? No. Not so many if you add that conditional in too!

Brilliant trip, great effort, and as to the photo’s & landscape:

‘Wow’!

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The idea of a night out in summer sounds a nice idea. I’ve spent plenty of nights out in bivvies, mostly in nice WX.

there are probably a few other (ex?) winter climbers here who have spent nights in snow holes/igloos aswell?

More comfortable than a tent in winter anyway - but you’d probably have to look harder in LD to find suitable snow depth near a summit - Above Red Tarn perhaps?

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I think that depends how good your tent is. Given a choice of a snow hole or a pyramid tent, sleeping on a sheepskin with a tilley lantern, there is only one sensible choice! Granted, that camping setup needs a skidoo to support it.

I find the problem with snow holes is that they always stay just above freezing so they can be quite damp. You also need to pay reasonable attention to carbon monoxide poisoning.

I had a climbing trip in the Andes that featured an unplanned bivvy on a new route at 5200 m with no sleeping bag. That night of 12 hours of darkness was probably the longest night of my life. Every bivvy since then felt like bliss. The exception being, the semi unplanned bivvy a week later bailing off an attempt on another new route. That featured a cramped snow hole (again no sleeping bag). My memory of that was being wet and really uncomfortable.

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I think I will stick to tents/tarps.

I find that a four season tent is like portal to another realm. When inside the tent, it is hard to imagine that one is camped on top of a hill, in poor weather. I use earplugs to block out the wind noise, and generally sleep soundly and feel safe and comfortable.

Indeed, the above is a good argument for using tarps in good weather, as a tent cuts you off from the outdoors.

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